I meet Stela Brinzeanu at the corner of Highbury Fields and we find a café nearby. This is the first time I meet and interview a person born in Moldova, a tiny Eastern European country with a population of just three and a half million. It is a former Soviet republic, famous for its wine. Now it is a struggling economy, which depends on its agriculture and migrant workers, earning money abroad to support their parents and children at home. “We are the Skype generation”, explains Stela. “Many children see their parents just once or twice a year, and they rely on the internet.”
Born in a small village, called Mereeseni, 40km from the capital Chișinău, Stela too uses Skype to call her parents, but it’s still a relative novelty. “We used to write long letters to each other, and they took a month to arrive. My parents did not have a computer or internet until 2013.”
Stela’s father shoots clouds for living. His job is to spot thundery clouds and break them up before they may damage the crops – fruit, vegetables and grapes – with hail. Stela’s mother is a nurse. Growing up in a tiny village, Stela nevertheless benefited from the Soviet school system, which allowed her to enrol into a Chișinău university to study English and Italian. Only after the collapse of the Soviet Union, opportunities in Moldova were few and far between. Moldovan citizens, annexed from Romania by the Ribbentrop-Molotov pact between Hitler’s Germany and Stalin’s USSR, were hoping to be reunited with Romania, but in vain. Stela decided to try her luck in London, taking advantage of her Romanian ancestry (which enabled her to work legally in Britain).
London appeared to be everything Mereeseni was not: liberating and full of opportunities. Stela got a job as a waitress, signed up for a computer course, worked to improve her English. Soon she started to interpret into and from Romanian. (Romanian is Moldova’s official and spoken language). Later Stela studied media and TV production at the University of Westminster, still supporting herself with part-time jobs. She’s worked in TV and publishing, before finding her passion for writing.
“In Britain, if you want something, you can get it, regardless of whether you have connections or not. If you keep your head down and work hard, I believe you can achieve whatever you want.”
Stela misses Moldovan vineyards, home-cooked traditional mămăliga (polenta), sarmale (dolma) and friptura (pork stew), but today she calls London her home.
She works three days a week for a charity and devotes the rest of her time to writing. Stela has already written and self-published a book, Bessarabian Nights, about human trafficking from her native Moldova. Now she is working on her second book.
Sometimes it takes an outsider to remind us how lucky we are…
What is your greatest achievement? I’ve made life for myself in London, against all odds.
What would you advise your 15-year-old self? Hold on to your dreams, no matter what.
What are you good at? Cleaning! I am a bit OCD about that. I also make mean polenta cakes!
What is your weakness? Impulsiveness.
What would you do, if you knew you would not fail? Study quantum physics.
If you’d like to find out more about Stela, please visit her website www.stelabrinzeanu.com.